One policeman was killed and three others were injured Monday morning as Palestinians opened fire at a police car near the West Bank settlement of Beit Hagai. The officers were making their way to Hebron from the southern city of Beersheba.
The police have cleared for publication the name of the policeman killed in a shooting attack south of Hebron: The killed officer was identified as Command Sergeant Major Yehoshua (Shuki) Sofer, 39, who had served in the Hebron region for 14 years.
Massive security and rescue forces were dispatched the area. According to the Magen David Adom emergency service, two of the policemen were shot in the chest and stomach. One was critically injured and died of his wounds after reaching the hospital.
The other policeman shot in the chest was said to be in moderate condition. Another was lightly injured from gunshots, and the fourth policeman was hurt by shrapnel.
A helicopter was dispatched to the area to help evacuate the injured to the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem and the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba.
Injured policeman evacuated to hospital (Photo: Herzel Yosef)
Police and army forces were combing the area in search of the shooters, and were checking whether the police car was ambushed or fired on from a passing vehicle. The Israel Defense Forces instructed residents of the nearby settlements, Otniel and Beit Hagai, to remain inside their homes until the end of the search.
The shooting took place near the al-Fawar junction located about 10 kilometers (6 miles) southwest of the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba. Hebron's Palestinian residents reported that the IDF had set up roadblocks and was searching all villages near Road 60.
'I heard screaming and gunshots'
Command Sergeant Major Mordechai Danon, who was moderately injured in the attack, said he hoped to return to work on Tuesday.
"I wasn't afraid. What is fear? I know no such thing. I tried to help my friend, and the unfortunate thing is that you can't see them (the terrorists) and can't respond at the same moment."
Recounting the incident, he said, "I was looking for my gun. I tried to pull it out, but we kept on driving fast to get out of the ambush. The functioning was heroic. The commander gave an order to drive fast, and the driver – who was also injured by gunshots – drove and reported the incident at the same time."
Security forces at scene of attack (Photo: Noam Moskowitz)
The officer who was lightly injured in the attack recounted the incident upon arriving at the hospital.
The policeman, who was driving the car, said he heard gunshots from the left side of the vehicle and his colleagues screaming from the back of the car. He said he also heard one of the bullets pass over his head, before he was hit in the shoulder from another bullet.
He added that he continued driving on Road 60 until the officers were met by rescue forces, who gave them initial medical treatment and evacuated them to the hospitals.
The driver's friends and wife visited him at the Soroka Medical Center, where he was questioned by the police and delivered a testimony of the incident.
According to an initial investigation, three of the policemen left from Beersheba towards the Hebron police station, and stopped to pick up their colleague at the settlement of Shim'a.
According to estimates, the vehicle was shot by one person or more who was standing at the side of the road and fired the short at close range.
The policeman's wife told Ynet, "When I called him he said he was being evacuated and that everything was okay. I heard about the incident this morning from my brother, who said he heard that a police car was fired on. My husband didn't call me and I tried to catch him. After the second time I called he answered and said everything was okay."
Police Commissioner Dudi Cohen visited the injured policemen at the hospital. He said the officer was killed by three bullets and that the police were still searching for the terrorists. "We hope the Israel Police, the general security service and the army will do all in their power to stop the cell which is still walking around freely."
He said the incident was the eighth time in the past two years that police teams were shot by terrorists. "This means the police will be everywhere and anywhere they have to be," he added.
Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who is currently visiting Bulgaria, was briefed on the attack.
'Victims of Bibi and Barak's policy'
South Mount Hebron Council Head Zviki Bar Hai said the attack was prompted by the removal of roadblocks in the West Bank, which he said only increased terror. "The policemen are the victims of Bibi (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) and (Defense Minister Ehud) Barak's calculated prevention policy."
Yehuda Glick, spokesperson for the nearby community of Otniel, added that "those who opened the Dahariya roadblock only three weeks ago, knowing that the place served as a shelter for terrorists, should not be surprised that the terrorists took advantage of their innocence."
The Yesha Council said in response that "the security cooperation with the Palestinians, imposed by the political echelon on the IDF in Judea and Samaria in general, and in the Hebron area in particular, cannot provide security. This is costing lives for the police, the IDF and Israel's residents."
The last deadly attack on a West Bank road took place in December 2009, when 40-year-old Rabbi Meir Avshalom Hai of Shavei Shomron was shot from a passing vehicle. He was seriously wounded in his head and was proclaimed dead shortly afterwards.
In March 2009, two policemen were killed in a shooting attack in the Jordan Valley. Their killers have yet to be captured.
Ilana Curiel and Ronen Medzini contributed to this report